No book, fiction or otherwise, has ever contributed as much to history as The Great Gatsby. Published in 1925, Fitzgerald’s masterpiece famous predicted the Great Depression four years before it devastated the entire country. Throughout Gatsby, countless seemingly minuscule plot points indicate this impending financial crash. Trained at Princeton in the economics of art (minus the econ) and cut from the football team at its first practice, Fitzgerald serves as the perfect guide to the future American struggles.
-The extreme poverty of the Great Depression affected everyone particularly the middle class, with over 6,000 street vendors peddling apples for as little as 5 cents apiece. These cheap transactions are reminiscent of the old man who sells Mrs. Wilson a puppy in Ch. 2, so worn down by the country’s crippling debt it weighed around his neck like “a basket swung from his neck cowered a dozen very recent puppies of an indeterminate breed.”
-On “Black Thursday,” October 24, 1929, investors began to start dumping out their worthless shares, resulting in almost 13,000,000 trades in a single day. Do you know what else happened in October? Daisy and Gatsby fell in love with each other, something that, like the Great Depression, haunted Gatsby for years. Kind of makes you think, doesn’t it?
-Throughout the Great Depression, zippers became popular because making clothing with buttons was too expensive. This was clearly an analogy to Jordan Baker, who in Ch. 3 was described to be such a bad driver she “flicked a button on one man’s coat.”
-People by 1940 had become so disgruntled with conditions, almost 2.5 million people left in a mass exodus to the Great Plains and 200,000 to California. This dramatic movement is almost as extreme as Nick Caraway’s choice to, after arriving home restless like your hipster cousin post-study abroad, move to NYC in pursuit of America’s highest art form: the bond system.
-One of the worst innovations that came from the Great Depression is the chain letter, which was started in 1935 as a scam to get extra money. Post offices became so overwhelmed they had to hire extra staff just to keep up with the surplus of letters. One of these letters clearly left Daisy distraught on her wedding day, enough for her to rip her string of pearls because she didn’t
“SEND THIS TO 😈 10 OF YOUR SPOOKIEST 🕷 FRIENDS IN 31 SECONDS 🕖🕖🕖 OR YOU’LL GET CRIPPLING DEPRESSION 😭 REUNITE WITH THE LOVE OF YOUR LIFE 👫AFTER YOU’RE ALREADY MARRIED WITH KIDS 👩👧 AND YOU’LL ALL DIE MISERABLE 💀💀💀💀”
-People became so dissatisfied with Herbert Hoover’s involvement in the Great Depression they began to start naming terrible circumstances after his. The towns made of cardboard and sheets were called “Hoovervilles,” a reference to the East Egg shack which Nick lives across from Gatsby’s mansion. Hoover’s name was also used to describe things like “Hoover Wagons,” a description of broken cars that had to be pulled by mules to function. This is OBVIOUSLY a reference to the car outside of Gatsby’s party which breaks down, which is also a reference of the collapse of the American dream, which is also technically a reference back to the Great Depression? Quadriception.
-The Dow Jones hit its peak at 381 before plummeting to an all-time low. It wouldn’t recover until 23 years later, a sign of how devastating the effects of this Depression were. If you take 381 and move the 1 to the front, you get 138, and on pg. 138 Myrtle is discovered to be dead at the hands of Gatsby. Is Myrtle the symbol of the Great Depression? No, but she dies which is close enough.
-Walt Disney “Three Little Pigs” in 1933 compared the wolf to the Great Depression and the three little pigs to citizens who work together and combat this terrible financial period. As the star of a similar yet unrelated movie, ‘The Wolf of Wall Street,” Leonardo DiCaprio (who also played Jay Gatsby in the book) helps connect these three media together. These three piggies who inevitably overcome Gatsby, Daisy Tom Buchanan and Nick Caraway, represent the common people who survive through the struggles of being filthy rich and in the upper class.
Because the financial meltdown lasted from 1929 to 1939, this homage to the great Great Depression earns a 10/10 for each year of its destruction of American capitalism.
Alex has an honorary doctorate from the Kim Dan Institute of Higher Learning in Book Reviews. He is also working on becoming ordained as a minister online.